Why Eritrea-Ethiopia Arms Ban Hurts... Russia

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An arms embargo won't stop the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but it'll be a blow to the cash flow of the arms industry in various former Soviet states. The U.N. Security Council late Wednesday unanimously approved a one-year embargo on the supply and maintenance of weapons to both countries in a bid to bring an end to the latest round of fighting in a border war that has cost tens of thousands of lives over the past two years. "Realistically, though, everybody knows that the embargo won't end the fighting now because both sides have stockpiled enough weapons to wage war for the next two years," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "But cutting the supply will impair their ability to fight on in the long term, and help force them eventually to come to a peace agreement."

Russia had initially been opposed to an arms embargo, however, and with good reason. The two countries may be facing starvation from famine, but the BBC reports that Ethiopia and Eritrea's war has cost both countries somewhere around $1 million a day for the past two years — much of it spent on weapons from Russia and its former Soviet satellites. The Russians, for example, sold Ethiopia eight Sukhoi 27 fighters 18 months ago at a cost of $150 million, and then received a similar amount from Eritrea for a batch of MiG-29 fighters and more for a handful of Sukhoi 25 ground-attack fighters. And the bonanza for the former Soviets didn't end there: Since neither side had the pilots and technical personnel to operate the sophisticated aircraft, they were initially operated and flown by personnel from former Soviet allies before locals could be trained. Bulgaria got in on the action too, supplying rockets to the Eritreans and tanks to the Ethiopians, while Italy supplied helicopters to the Eritreans, and Israel, France and China supplied expertise, communications equipment and ammunition to Ethiopia. At least in theory, now both countries will have more money to devote to famine relief. That's if they're not paying the higher prices charged by arms suppliers willing to violate the embargo.